Profile 5: MARCEL JANCO (1895-1984), Founding Member of the Zurich Dada Group

Portrait-JancoMarcel-1918 copy

Among us were neither blasé people nor cynics, actor nor anarchists who took the Dada scandal seriously. – Marcel Janco, 1957

Hand-Engraved-RJanco, looking out at Zurich from his vantage point on Central Square 65 years after the birth of the movement, called out: ‘Dada is not just alive, Dada is thriving!’

Marcel Janco was born in Bucharest in 1895, and is regarded as one of Romania’s key avant-garde artists. In 1915, he studied architecture in Switzerland, and eventually joined Hugo Ball and Jean Arp to co-found Zurich’s Dada movement between 1916 and 1919. He directed stage and costume design at the Café Voltaire, creating and painting masks in the African style, which evoked unique choreography at Dada events.

Indeed, Janco’s masks were basic to Dada, creating what he termed was ‘our faith in a direct art, a magical, organic, and creative art, like that of primitives and of children.’  Hugo Ball wrote in his diaries, “What fascinates us about these masks is that they represent, not humanity, but characters and emotions that are larger than life.  The paralysing horror which is the backcloth of our age is visible.”

Janco’s art style broached the figurative and the abstract; expressionism and cubism. His paintings conjured the dynamics of dance – breaking the surface and overlapping – as in physical movement. As such, his forms were simultaneously visible as 2- and 3-dimensional, emulating dancers on a stage.

The artist also was associated with the Paris Dada branch, where he participated in an international exhibition of abstract art. Janco was a co-founder of the avant-garde Romanian journal Contimporanul, with which he remained associated in the 1920’s, while contributing to a variety of other progressive art publications.

Upon returning from Paris to his native Bucharest in 1921, Janco generated the development of the avant-garde, and, from 1926, worked as an architect of modern buildings there. When Fascism invaded 1940 Romania, Janco emigrated with his family to Israel, where he founded and developed a thriving artist’s colony at En Hod.

Inspired by his international success, resident artists sought Janco’s counsel in their quest for universal recognition of Israeli art. They were rewarded in 1983 by his participation in the establishment of the Janco-Dada Museum in Ein Hod, the city in which Janco died one year later. The Museum remains an an active center for both documenting Jano’s legacy and exhibition opportunities for contemporary Israeli artists. – MEKHand-Engraved-L


Portrait-JancoMarcel copy


Profile 4: HANS RICHTER (1888-1976), Founding Member of the Zurich Dada Group


The realization that reason and anti-reason, sense and nonsense, design and chance, consciousness and unconsciousness, belong together as necessary parts of a whole – this was the central message of Dada. – Hans Richter

Hand-Engraved-RJohannes Siegfried Richter was born in 1888 in Berlin. While he wished to be a painter, his father convinced him to pursue architecture instead of painting, and he entered a one-year carpentry apprenticeship. From 1908 to 1911, Richter did follow his own calling and studied at the Art Academies in Berlin, Weimar and Paris. Two years later, he joined groups of expressionists from Berlin’s Sturm Gallery, Dresden’s Brücke, and Munich’s Blaue Reiter and, in 1914, joined Die Aktion, led by a group of expressionist artists and writers sharing socialist and antiwar sentiments. Mainly using its literary and political membership as subjects, Richter produced black and white drawn, woodcut, and linocut portraits for the Die Aktion Journal. Such visual abstractions borne of political thought informed much of his life’s work.

In 1916, Richter was wounded shortly after entering the war, and was discharged from active duty. Seeking medical treatment in Zurich with his new wife, Richter visited friends at the Café de la terrasse on a date proposed two years previously. New friends were made: Dadaists Tristan Tzara, Marcel Janco, and his brother, Georges.

Richter participated in Dada events from 1917 to 1919 and first showed his paintings at the Galerie Corray. His “visionary portraits” – abstractions of his Dada friends, including woodcut “Dada heads” – were done in “trancelike states” beyond the visible world toward “a universal image.”

In 1918, Tristan Tzara introduced Richter to Viking Eggeling, a Swedish painter whose “systematic theory of abstract art” led the two collaborators to co-author “Universelle Sprache” (Universal Language), which posited “abstract art to language based on polar relationships of elementary forms derived from the laws of human perception.” This novel communication would be devoid of associations realted to the horrors of World War I.

Eggleling and Richter later produced abstract films, which were also novel in form and content. Universal Language also served as the basis of other films such as, Rhythmus 21 and Rhythmus 23, which introduced temporal elements into their abstractions. These inflections are also evident in Richter’s 1927 film, Vormittagsspuk (“Ghosts before Breakfast”), with its potent Dadaesque parodies of life.

Richter collaborated with Werner Graeff and Elizar (‘EL’) Lissitsky on the abstract film-focused magazine G (“Gestaltung” – “Structure”), funded by architect Mies van der Rohe, and to which Dadaists Tzara, Haussmann, Ray, Gross, Schwitters and Arp, among others, contributed. However, Richter’s membership with the Association of Revolutionary Artists forced him to flee from Germany, whereupon he landed in the US in 1941, and taught in New York’s Film Institute of City College. Richter retired in 1962 and returned to Locarno, Switzerland, where he died in 1976.

Other important Dada-inflected films by Richter include Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947), 8×8: A Chess Sonata (1957) and Dadascope (1961). He is notable as the author of an important book on Dada by one of the movement’s core founders, Dada: Art and Anti-Art (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965. Reprint edition, London: Thames and Hudson, 1997). – MEKHand-Engraved-L



Profile 3: SOPHIE TAEUBER-ARP (1889-1943), Founding Member of the Zurich Dada Group


It is not possible for us to take ourselves back to the exact circumstances of those in a past era, attempting to create art in the style of the past is always inauthentic. – Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Hand-Engraved-RE  Sophie Taeuber was born in Davos, Switzerland, and became one of the few Swiss members of Zurich Dada. In 1906, she studied drawing, design and decorative painting, and left for Munich in 1910. While there, she studied under Wilhelm von Debschitz in his textile workshop, and after spending a year in Hamburg’s School of Applied Arts, she returned to von Debschitz, until relocating to Zurich. She met Hans Arp in 1915, married him in 1922, and together they collaborated on “duo-collages,” based on her past abstract textile works. With Arp, she introduced “applied arts” to abstract arts in weaving his designs into her work.

In addition to her weaving, Taeuber was truly a multi-media artist, including modern dance, painting, tapestry, embroidery, drawing, interior design, furniture, architecture, and marionettes. Her sculptures were “parodies” of the human head, and merged art and utility as decorative hat-stands. Through her Dada years, she was a professor at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich, teaching textile design and techniques.

Because her school rejected Dada events, at the Café Voltaire, she used a pseudonym to pursue her dancing, and became quite proficient. Hugo Ball claimed that his recitations of his sound poems evoked “the strangest effect and movements” (by Sophie). Her dancing, in fact, informed the movements of the marionettes she created.

Taeuber designed the set and marionettes for Carlo Gozzi’s Il re cervo (König Hursch/King Stag), which provided a novel production for the 1913 Freud – Jung libido controversy.

Taeuber endeavored to free her art via pictorial approaches “at the service of pure feeling.”  She and Arp discontinued working in “pretentious” oil paints, and used simple cloth, paper and other materials to capture the purity of their art.

After leaving the School of Applied Arts, she and Arp moved near Paris into a house of her design. The building now houses the “Foundation Jean Arp.”

Taeuber-Arp died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in 1943. She has been honored by being the only woman represented on a Swiss bank note. – MEKHand-Engraved-L


The intrinsic decorative urge should not be eradicated. It is one of humankind’s deep-rooted, primordial urges. Primitive people decorated their implements and cult objects with a desire to beautify and enhance…it is a sense emanating from the urge for perfection and creative accomplishment. – Sophie Taeuber-Arp, 1927


Profile 2: HANS (JEAN) ARP (1886-1966), Founding Member of the Zurich Dada Group


Art is a fruit that grows in man like a fruit on a plant or a child in its mother’s womb. –Hans Arp

Hand-Engraved-RHans Arp was born in Strasbourg, Alsace, situated in contested territory between France and Germany. He was given both French and German names at birth by his parents: Hans Peter Wilhelm and Jean Pierre Guillaume, and grew up fluent in both languages. He studied art in Strasbourg and Paris, and later founded Moderner Bund to exhibit Swiss modern art.

In 1912, Arp’s drawing were published in the Blaue Reiter Almanach (Blue Rider Alamanac) by the Expressionist group led by Vasily Kandinsky. Kandinsky was a strong influence on Arp, both as a visual artist and a poet. Arp also at this time became an exhibition organizer and reviewer for the journal Der Sturm (The Storm). Arp fled from Cologne to avoid the draft as war erupted, and made his way to Paris. There he was under suspicion of espionage and was ultimately forced to leave the country. Landing in neutral Switzerland and facing conscription, Arp pled mental illness.

As one of the founders of Zurich Dada, Arp illustrated almost every important book of poetry and journal issued during the period with his distinctive abstract imagery. He eventually began artistic multi-media collaborations with Sophie Taeuber, whom he married in 1922. In their “duo-collages,” they sought to “approach the pure radiance of reality” by avoiding the human influence of personality. He later turned to “earthly forms” of nature s an antidote to the horrors of WWI. Arp’s philosophical and psychological interests reflected his spirituality; based on chance and the subconscious, spontaneity was achieved à la Dada. In the late 1920’s, he applied nature’s cycles to sculpture, for which he later received many awards and commissions.

Arp died in Basel, Switzerland in 1966, 23 years after his wife, Sophie Taeuber-Arp. -MEKHand-Engraved-L

Arp-In Studio

Profile 1: HUGO BALL (1886-1927), Founding Member of the Zurich Dada Group

Photo-BallHugo-Cabaret Voltaire Performance-1916

I don’t want words that other people have invented. All the words are other people’s inventions. I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my own. –H. Ball           (

Hand-Engraved-RBall’s lifelong search for philosophical meaning, borne of his strict Catholic childhood and adult rejection of modern language and its contexts (the politics of WWI among them) –  was represented by fellow founder, Richard Huelsenbeck’s claim that the two chose the term “Dada” from a German-French dictionary to imply baby talk.

Ball, formerly a theater director, established the Café Voltaire with singer Emmy Hennings, one of two female founders of Dada, as the venue for all manner of the group’s arts and entertainment.  Quite soon, however, he grew weary of the “increasing nonsense” among the members, and in 1916 withdrew to the Swiss countryside to recover from exhaustion. His latest in a lifetime of malaise was attributed to regression to his  traumatic childhood during his performance of his own genre, sound poetry, which catapulted him back to bleakness.  In 1917, against the proposed international growth of Dadaism, he left the group forever, and married Emmy Hennings three years later.  Soon and ironically, Ball also left his political fervor behind, to renew his Catholic connections. –MEK. Hand-Engraved-L


Marie Osmond recites Ball’s 1916 poem, “Karawane” on Ripley’s Believe It or Not.